Friday, January 01, 2010

Day of the Triffids

Izzard with phallic prop
Dir: Nick Copus

I was eager to see this new adaptation, as the book and the previous TV adaptation are among the major foundations for my love of the post apoc genre. Unfortunately (I'll establish this now for any one who isn't interested in me ranting) I wasn't impressed with what I saw. Here are a number of points why;

The end of the world as we know it.
In the previous series, as in the book, the Triffids are almost superfluous to the story. They provide an added backdrop of paranoid fear against which the drama of civilisation's fall takes place. The real story of DOTT is how Bill Masen and his fellow survivors try to adapt to their new reality; how they cope with suddenly finding themselves in a world without a civil infrastructure. The BBC series 'Survivors' was based on a similar premise.

In this new adaptation, the apocolypse is disregarded in favour of a modern Doctor Who style plot where Bill Masen races against time to find a solution for the Triffids. It might seem strange to complain that the Triffids are suddenly more important to the plot, but thats because the Triffids were always meant to be in the background so the story of how humanity fell could function. In this new adaptation, Bill Masen treks on foot across the English countryside and doesn't even need a shave. His would be girlfriend Josella Playton also manages to look like a glamour model in every scene and for some reason, Masen's father has avoided being blinded (it is never explained how) and is already established in a Triffid proof house which is all set up and waiting for the climactic showdown with Torrence. Humanity hasn't fallen, it has merely stumbled.

Played by Eddie Izzard.
Another huge disapointment. In the book and in the previous BBC adaptation, Torrence is a pocket sized tyrant who appears in the background about half way through the story. As time passes by, he comes to symbolize the old order and becomes a problem for the survivors who don't wish to live in a feudal society. At no point is he 'the big bad guy'.

In the new adaptation, Torrence is seen surviving the solar flare which blinds most every one else, by being asleep on a plane full of screaming people. He then survives in what has to be a pretty damned dubious method of survivng a plane crash. We then see how Izzard as Torrence steals the show, turning a post apoc story into some kind of left wing delusion regarding the nature of tyrants. Twice Torrence is shown regarding Winston Churchill in a manner that I understand to mean he is trying to emulate/compete with the dead Prime Minister. Torrence takes over 10 Downing Street where he sets himself up as some kind of Supreme Leader and manages to assemble an army of sighted people almost over night. It gets really Godwin when things start to go amiss for Torrence and to the sounds of a distant battle, a flunky enters Torrence's bed room, where Torrence is sitting on his bed cradling the shot gun he has taken to carrying around. "Its bad news from the front" the flunky says in a nervous voice. "Just go away" Torrence replies in best Fuhrer bunker fashion as he fondles his shot gun.

Maybe its just me, but the front? London is still on fire, so it can't have been all that long since the fall of civilisation, but Torrence not only has a standing army, he now has 'a front'. The problem is the Triffids, again, they've become too much in the foreground, turning a story about post apocolypse into something neat, tidy and easy to digest. Using Izzard to play an easily identifiable bad guy from the beginning is another poor choice. I love Izzard as a comic, and I liked him in 'Valkyrie', but there he played a subsidiary character and the direction kept things tight. Here he is the main bad guy who takes the story off course on some thwarted romance sub plot.

Big Ben
The world has just been turned blind. Bill Masen has retained his sight because an accidental Triffid sting left him in hospital with bandages on his eyes. The next day, Bill walks out into London, his sight restored and what does he see? Big Ben with the top sheared off... Its a minor detail but what cut the top off Big Ben?

Brian Cox
An actor I love to hate, but for once I don't begrudge him his limited range as an actor (Cox = angry old guy). What bugs me is the presence of his role in the adaptation at all. In the book and previous TV adaptation Bill Masen has no parents, nor were they ever Triffid scientists. Now suddenly they are not only Triffid scientists but Masen's brilliant mother had already stumbled across the secret of the Triffids thirty years ago and its left to Masen and his Dad to decode her research and find the 'cure' to the Triffid infestation.

In short, Masen's father isn't meant to be around. In post apoc, you lose your comfort zone. Thats the whole point! Having a father around, who has inexplicably survived the blinding effects of the solar flare, and who has a Triffid proof farm already in place undermines the whole idea that civilisation might fall and your left to your wits to survive.

I don't like religion, but I doubt very much that Christians would immediately begin human sacrifice in order to survive against the Triffids. In the book and the first TV adaptation, a group of religious people do try to set up a commune along religious lines, but they fail due to the illness which naturally follows the apocolypse. The Luddite/religious side show of the new TV adaptation is yet another example of the BBC making soup from old bones with Redgrave channeling Cowslip of Watership Down.

Bill and Jo. You can tell its the apocolypse by their photogenic wounds

The Hero and his Girlfriend
For some reason, Mason is suddenly a Scot, though theres nothing wrong with that I suppose, not since they redefined his family any way. Jo Payton is now a journalist who works for the BBC and who spends most of the series trying to escape Torrence. Neither actor managed to elicit any emotional responce from me and I found the whole 'voice of Britain' thing to be a boring distraction.

The Triffids
There was always something 'sexual' about the Triffids, something phallic, and the new, purple hooded plants, writhing across the landscape on a tangle of pube-like roots are no exception to that. Where the new Triffids differ is the addition of prehensile, muscular roots which I sort of liked, but not in the context of Triffids whose menace derives from their being plant like. The new Triffids are too anthropormorphic for my liking, not least in their vocal range which includes all manner of sounds and screams, one even screams when its being attacked by Mason in a very 'alien like' manner.

The previous Triffids were slow and cumbersome. The effects weren't fantastic, but they managed to create a certain creeping menace which the new super charged Triffids just didn't have.

All in all, it was terrible when compared to the previous series, and the book. All the moral dilemma's examined previously had been magnified for full emotional effect and the result is a bloated self indulgence that tramples the underlying story of post apocolyptic survival, in a bid for righteousness and a three way romance drama.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I quite enjoyed it, but then I haven't read the book... Joely Richardson is always pleasant to look at after all!

What I was disappointed with was the ending - very abrupt, and left me with a feeling of "is that it??"

I vaguely remember a previous series - specifically them ending up in a lighthouse?? and finding that sea water destroyed them when sprayed through the hoses they found there???

Oleg said...

This all goes to show that tastes differ, because I really liked this adaptation of Day of the Triffids, for many of the reasons that you don't.

Normally I hate it when a film adaptation of a book strays from the original. There are very few exceptions (such as 'Do Androids Dream… ' / Bladerunner), where there is an improvement, but in this case, although this version strayed a long way from the original story, I think it worked.

Your first point: that Triffids played a greater role than in the book… yes, to an extent, but it was only a shift of emphasis. Triffids were still the maker problem that nobody appreciated at first, and there was plenty human society breaking down and re-forming. It happened over a couple of seasons (autumn, winter and spring?), rather than a few years.
I didn't like the change of the 'history' of the Triffids, and how they got out, as I think that something that had been accepted as mildly dangerous, that suddenly becomes a lethal menace, is more scary than trillions of the buggers getting out of farms.

General moan to all arty types… learn some science, if Triffids produce fuel, the need a corresponding source of energy, like lots of sunlight… not meat. Original Triffids yielded an *additive*.

Eddie Izzard stole the show. I liked this, even though it wasn't so much protagonist and antagonist, as an ambiguous but rather unpleasant character and supporting cast.

I think the 'plane hit the Big Ben clock tower (recently repaired from that spaceship in Dr Who).

Once I had accepted that this version was different (my initial annoyance with the origin of the Triffids), I could accept that Bill Mason's father fitted nicely into the plot.
He wasn't a comfort zone as Bill Mason didn't get on with him at all, but had to seek him out.

As to Religion, again, in the book, a couple of attempts to create a new society failed because they tried to adhere to impractical ethics. Torrence represented the other extreme of new and seemingly practical ethics, that ultimately failed.
In this adaptation, fewer variants were explored, but there was a similar range. Why not have a Mother Superior make a deal with the Devil, in this case? It was merely a different social commentary.

I'll grant you that Eddie Izzard stole the show from the nominal Hero / Heroine. Good for him.

Once again, I sort of agree with you. I did not like how the new Triffids moved, nor indeed how they died. They moved like animals, rather than plants, and this made them far less sinister.
I did not like the strong root tendrils at all.
I did like the silhouettes and superb photography, though, and to me this made up for any shortcomings.
You mentioned 'Night of the Triffids' to me, which is a descriptive phrase that should have made it to the blog. There, it has now.

I do actually have a final point, that the blinding light in the book was officially comet / meteorites, but later assumed to be some sort of weapon (possibly like the plague).
This adaption babbled about a solar flare.
Blinding weapons are possible, and probably exist (admittedly to blind military sensors). Lasers can blind a person without them noticing immediately. This, to my mind , makes for a better, more believable (people blink when there is a bright flash, and if it is bright / fast enough to blind, it will also cook to some extent), and actually contemporary plot device.

I'd give it 4/5 stars.

moif said...

That doesn't ring any bells.

I hated the ending. Put triffid poison in your eyes and the triffids won't attack you. WTF?

moif said...


I could have stomached Masen's dad if they hadn't thrown in the same old oedipal complex stuff that seems to be so in vogue with modern sci fi writers looking for something 'meaningful'.

Oleg said...

Tracey (my wife) mentioned a version with seawater as well.

A small amount of Triffid poison in the eyes could have a certain logic to it.
Do not try the equivalent with (honey)bee venom, though, as it attracts other bees to sting the same target.

Grimsby Mariner said...

I agree with much of your analysis. The 1970's series was a far better adaptation and seemed all the more menacing for being lower in budget. This version never appeared to have much of anything to fear - even the triffids in their revamped and ugraded variety were easy to cope with you just needed some electric fencing from the local farm (but what was powering it?).
The only good point for me was Izzard who showed some of the potential he has as an actor.
Overall the Beeb failed to deliverwih this adaptation (and on a similar note they also failed with their Turn of the Screw showed the following night).